Green Water

In late March 2015 bright green water was seen in various parts of Newtown Creek. Assuming this was not the remnants of an attempt to celebrate St. Patricks day (as done with dye in the Chicago River) we asked some of our favorite researchers if they could figure out what was producing such a distinctive color. Dr. Michael Levandowsky (Pace University), Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan (LaGuardia Community College) and Dr. Sarah Durand (LaGuardia Community College) obtained samples for examination at their respective labs.


Green tide seen in Newtown Creek, March 2015.  Microscopic photo courtesy Dr. Durand.

After a few trials and examination under the microscope and some correspondence back and forth, Dr. Levandowsky concluded that “They are typical euglenids (a single-celled algal group that includes Euglena, often studied in high school biology courses) in the genus Eutreptiella. I suspect Sarah is right in thinking the bloom was brought on by sewage overflow during the rainy days last week. Euglenids like ammonia and fermentation products such as short-chain fatty acids (e.g. acetic acid), and these would probably have been in the runoff.”

While this bright green was a bit of a new color, it is not uncommon to witness other distinctive, ‘unnatural’ colors on Newtown Creek, particularly in summer months (as seen in the photo below). Given the Creek’s toxic nature and history of industrial pollution it might be easy to assume that one is just seeing chemicals floating in the water, when in fact one is seeing millions of microscopic organisms producing rapidly, in what is commonly known as a bloom. As mentioned above, much of this rapid growth happens as a result of untreated sewage entering the waterway during rainstorms. Resulting algae blooms can have devastating effects on the larger ecosystem, especially in places like Newtown Creek that has lost so much of its natural design and function.


Various blooms seen on the Creek in recent summers.

There is still much to be known these types of blooms in places as unique as Newtown Creek. As NCA continues to work more with local researchers in gathering more samples and data, regular citizens can help by alerting us to abnormal water colors and conditions, when witnessed on Newtown Creek. The easiest way being to send us photos via facebook, twitter or email – info (at) newtowncreekalliance (dot) org.

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